Migrant Rights Centre Ireland                                    Policy Paper 2010


INTRODUCTION                                                     according to certain moral values. Stigmatising, stereotyping
Racism, and its impact on the lives of migrant workers,          and racialising the cultures and ways of life of migrant
is a matter of grave concern for all societies. To create a      workers as inferior, or deeming them to be a threat to
more equal and socially-inclusive society, racism must           the dominant culture, are increasingly incorporated into
be addressed both at the individual and institutional            biological connotations of difference and superiority.
level. Attempting to address racism only at the level of         This form of racism, referred to as the ‘new racism’02,
the individual, as is the most common response, fails to         focuses on cultural incompatibility as the main reason
                                                                 why integration is not possible and why strict immigration
recognise the structural nature of this phenomenon.
                                                                 policies and controls are needed.
This paper explores racism and how it is manifested
towards migrant workers in Ireland. Prime examples of            ‘Those immigrants know no better because that is
institutional racism are evident in accessing public services,   how they do things over there, in their countries they
employment, ethnic profiling, and the impact of the current      are just different than us.’
recession in Ireland. The paper does not attempt to address      SOCIAL WELFARE OFFICIAL, IRELAND
all aspects of racism experienced by Black and minority
ethnic groups, including the Traveller community, but            ‘New Racism’ has been reinforced by a focus on multicul-
focuses on a number of salient examples. Key recommen-           turalism, a popular theme in many EU countries including
dations for future work and action to counter racism are         Ireland. Multiculturalism as a policy promotes the need
highlighted.                                                     for recognition and celebration of different cultures in a
                                                                 society. Multiculturalism has often involved activities,
WHAT IS RACISM?                                                  such as providing supports for cultural expression and
The concept of ‘race’ has long been contested. Following         multicultural events. It says little about either the situation
the rise of population genetics it became universally            or the status of the members of different cultures, it only
                                                                 implies their presence.
accepted that the concept of ‘race’ and racial inequality
had no scientific basis. Nevertheless, ‘race’ is still used
                                                                 As a consequence of such policies, the responsibility to
in everyday life to demarcate groups, largely according
                                                                 integrate or adapt to the dominant culture is placed on the
to physical appearance and skin colour, but also in terms
                                                                 shoulder of the migrant workers who are constructed as
of ethnicity,culture and national origin. Racism has been        the ‘subject’ of the integration process. The responsibility
described as “conduct or words or practices which disad-         for failure to properly integrate is placed on migrant workers.
vantage or advantage people because of their colour,             A key criticism of this multicultural approach is the rein-
culture or ethnic origin.01”                                     forcement of the generalisation of cultural differences and
                                                                 the inherent failure of such policies to address individual
Contemporary Racism                                              and institutional racism.
In the contemporary context, racism more commonly
features in nationality-based stereotypes and negative
characterisations about the cultural attributes of various
groups of migrant workers, rather than directly invoking
the concept of ‘race’. Cultural differences are generalised
in the same way as traditional biological differences,
                                                                 01 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, 1999
such as the tendency to behave in a certain way or live          02 Martin Barker, The New Racism, 1981

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Migrant Rights Centre Ireland                                      Policy Paper 2010

Individual and Institutional Racism
Racism operates at both an individual and an institutional         A group of migrant women were employed as mush-
level. Individual or direct forms of racism can range from         room pickers. Their employer informed them that if
verbal name calling to violent physical abuse. By contrast,        any woman had a relationship with an Irish man she
institutional forms of racism refer to institutional actions,      would be immediately sent home. A number of men
i.e. policies and practices that are discriminatory or             were also employed and this rule did not apply to
indifferent to the needs and requirements of minority              them. When one woman became pregnant she was
ethnic groups, including migrant workers.                          dismissed, and arrangements made for her to leave
                                                                   the country.
There is a direct link between individual and institutional
racism. Individuals are either enabled or excluded by              RACISM IN IRELAND
the way a society and the institutions of society operate.         Ireland has become an increasingly diverse country.
Individuals are racist consciously or unconsciously, mainly        The Irish workforce is composed of approximately 15%
                                                                   non-Irish nationals and it is estimated that there are
as a result of acting on the belief that certain people are
                                                                   188 different nationalities in the State (CSO 2006).
superior or inferior based on their membership of a
                                                                   Racial discrimination, both in terms of everyday abuse
particular group. These attitudes are often developed
                                                                   and discrimination and exclusion within Irish institutions,
through education, and through formal and informal                 is becoming more widespread. In a survey carried out in
processes. There are many factors which contribute to              2001, almost 80% of individuals from Black or ethnic
the development of these attitudes at the individual level,        minority groups living in Ireland claimed they had
such as the negative portrayal of certain groups in society,       experienced some form of racism or discrimination.
their invisibility within public and political systems, the        Many of these discriminatory attacks were not one-off or
impact of discriminatory policies and practices, and the           incidental occurrences. Rather, they constituted a feature
privilege bestowed on some members of society who have             of everyday life for migrants, occurring in a variety of social
certain characteristics (e.g. white, full citizenship, settled).   situations: in employment, in pubs, from neighbours, in
                                                                   banks, on buses and taxis, accessing housing, in the
The State, politicians and the media, through sensationalist       media, in education and schools, in health, from the
and inflammatory headlines, are paramount in generating            Gardaí, at the cinema and in accessing goods and services
and reinforcing racism. These groups have the power to             generally.03 Other studies have suggested that levels of
define the social world and impose a framework within              discrimination have not diminished.04 A recent report by
which migrants and their families are perceived and                the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency found that Ireland
                                                                   was among the top five countries in the EU when it came
evaluated. Laws, policies, rules and resources also have a
                                                                   to racial discrimination and abuse. 73% of those surveyed
direct bearing on shaping public attitudes towards migrant
                                                                   from Sub-Saharan Africa stated they had experienced
workers. Institutions are directly responsible for creating        racism in Ireland, as did 25% of those from Central and
the conditions in which migrant workers will have either           Eastern Europe.05
equal or unequal opportunities and outcomes within
society.                                                           Racism and employment
                                                                   Migrant workers have been hindered from accessing
Racism and intersection with                                       employment because of racism. Non-Irish nationals
multiple forms of discrimination                                   are three times more likely to experience discrimination
Historically, discrimination based on ethnicity, ‘race’,           while looking for work, while Black people are seven times
gender and other forms have been seen as parallel,                 more likely. Moreover, in the workplace non-Irish nationals
but distinct, forms of discrimination. In recent years,            are twice as likely to experience discrimination as Irish
however, there is a recognition that factors such as age,          nationals.06 32% of work permit holders reported harass-
disability, ethnicity, and socio-economic status can also          ment and insults at work, constituting the second most
compound discrimination. Failure to recognise these fac-           common form of discrimination.07
tors and how they intersect, results in poor and inadequate
responses. For instance, migrant women, like women in all
                                                                   03 Irish Centre for Human Rights and Amnesty International, Breaking Down
parts of society, are in an unequal position at an individual,        Barriers: Tackling Racism in Ireland at the Level of the State and its Institutions,
community and societal level. This, combined with racism              2006
experienced in the workplace and in accessing services,
                                                                   04 ESRI and Equality Authority, Immigrants at Work: Ethnicity and Nationality in the
places them at a much greater risk of exclusion and
                                                                      Irish Labour Market, 2008. ESRI, The Labour Market Characteristics and Labour
                                                                      Market Impacts of Immigrants in Ireland, 2006

                                                                   05 European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS), 2009

                                                                   06 ESRI and Equality Authority, Immigrants at Work: Ethnicity and Nationality in the
                                                                      Irish Labour Market, 2008
                                                                   07 ESRI, The Labour Market Characteristics and Labour Market Impacts of
                                                                      Immigrants in Ireland, 2006

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Migrant Rights Centre Ireland                                  Policy Paper 2010

                                                               application, and contributes to them being pushed further
Nasir worked in a restaurant where he was exploited.           into poverty. The initial introduction of the HRC in 2005 is
When Nasir tried to leave he was told he would be              believed to have been informed by a tabloid media cam-
deported as he would be ‘illegal’. He was also told            paign against workers from the EU accession countries
that no other employer would get a work permit for             being allowed to work in the UK and Ireland.
him as Ireland is a small place.
                                                               Ethnic and racial profiling
There is considerable evidence to show that migrant            Ethnic and racial profiling involves the use of certain
workers experience difficulties asserting their employment     characteristics and generalisations, usually grounded in
rights, and are vulnerable to racism in the workplace. The     ethnicity, colour, religion or national origin, in order to
way the work permit system is designed, which binds a          identify a person. Although it is difficult to ascertain
migrant worker to a particular employer, exacerbates this      precise levels, various reports and anecdotal evidence
vulnerability.                                                 indicate that ethnic profiling of immigrants is increasing.
                                                               The European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey
Racism can range from a person being treated less favour-      identified that the rate at which people from Sub Saharan
ably to fellow employees, in terms of pay and associated       Africa are being arbitrarily stopped and asked for identifica-
work privileges, to situations of extreme exploitation and     tion in Ireland was the highest for any ethnic minority in
forced labour. Work environments that are unwelcoming          the EU.
and are sharply divided on ethnic lines fuel racial tension
and generally deliver unequal outcomes for migrant
                                                               Jane lives and works in Donegal. She has been living
workers employed in such situations. For migrant
                                                               in Ireland for decades and has full citizenship. When
women there is the additional concern of gender
                                                               she travels to Dublin by bus she is sometimes targeted
discrimination, such as experiences of unequal pay,
                                                               by immigration officials who regularly carry out spot
sexual harassment, and pregnancy-related discrimination.
                                                               checks at the border with Northern Ireland. She feels
Accessing redress for migrant workers is especially
                                                               that the only basis for her being selected over others
difficult, with a waiting period in the Equality Tribunal of
                                                               is her skin colour.
two years, compounded by the absence of interpretating
supports in the Labour Relations Commission and
Employment Appeals Tribunal.                                   Justification for ethnic and racial profiling is often made on
                                                               the basis of countering terrorism, criminality and irregular
Accessing public services                                      migration. There are, however, a number of studies that
Unequal treatment in accessing public services has a           seriously question the effectiveness of ethnic profiling
direct bearing on the lived experiences and social status      (Open Justice Society). It is already the practice of the
of any individual or groups. While most frontline service      Garda National Immigration Bureau to collect biometric
providers are respectful and aim to deliver services without   information which is included in the certificates of regis-
prejudice, direct experiences of racism are a reality for      tration, and the forthcoming Immigration, Residence and
many migrant workers. This can take many different forms,      Protection Bill proposes that non-Irish nationals will be
such as the manner and tone used by officials, prejudiced      required to carry identification at all times. It is unclear
behaviour and being denied services.                           how Irish citizens, including those who are Black or have
                                                               acquired citizenship will be treated, given that citizens
                                                               are not required to carry identification at all times.
Asma was trafficked for forced labour in Ireland.
While her case was being investigated, Asma tried              Reporting racist incidents
to avail of the support services provided for victims of       The incidence of recorded racist crime fell by 21% to
trafficking, such as emergency accommodation. When             180 incidents in 2008. While this would appear to indicate
she presented her case to the Community Welfare                decreasing levels of racism, in reality NGOs have experi-
Officer, she was told that she has no right to stay            enced significant difficulties in reporting incidents of racism
in Ireland and was not entitled to any support.                to the Gardaí. In practice, the majority of racist incidents fall
                                                               into the category of verbal harassment, which is difficult to
Racism in the delivery of public services is also evident in   verify. In addition, many migrants are reluctant to report
the policies shaping access to these services. The Habitual    racist incidents to Gardaí who also act as immigration
Residency Condition (HRC) is of particular concern for         officers. Since the closure of National Consultative
migrant workers. Migrant worker eligibility for essential      Committee on Racism and Interculturalism in December
supports and services is predicated on meeting a number        2008, Ireland is without a national reporting mechanism
of restrictive criteria and not on economic need. The HRC      other than through the system in place through An Garda
may appear to be blind to ‘race’ and nationality because       Síochána.
all applicants for assistance must satisfy the condition.
However, the discretionary nature of HRC criteria leads to
migrant workers being disproportionately affected by its

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Migrant Rights Centre Ireland                                    Policy Paper 2010

Lita, an undocumented migrant worker, had her money              • Ensure that the Framework Decision on Racism is
stolen and was verbally insulted on a public street.               transposed fully into Irish law by the end of 2010. This
When she reported the incident at a Garda station, she             process should clearly define racism as a crime and
was first asked for details of her immigration status.             ensure that the racially-aggravated dimensions of
She immediately left the station and did not return.               crimes committed are considered in sentencing.

                                                                 • Develop a national policy to counter ethnic and racial
In defining racist incidents the term ‘racially motivated’         profiling across all State services and in the management
is particularly problematic. The key issue is not the moti-        of border controls. This should include independent
vation or mindset of offenders, which can be difficult to          monitoring of public bodies to assess their role in
prove, but the consequences of racist crimes for those who         exacerbating negative racial and ethnic profiling.
are attacked and for the communities to which they belong.
It is particularly important that in criminal cases which        • Establish a ‘national racist reporting and monitoring’
have a racist dimension, e.g. verbal abuse accompanying            system that is independent of the Gardaí, and that enables
damage to property, that the racist dimension is taken into        reporting of racist incidents other than those currently
consideration in deciding the appropriate sentence. In this        defined as crimes. It is particularly important that this
way, the message is communicated that a person’s identity
                                                                   system is widely advertised, and data analysed and
is protected and the racist dimension to crimes committed
                                                                   disseminated on a regular basis.
are taken seriously in the eyes of the law and society.
                                                                 • Extend coverage of the Equal Status Act to include An
Recession and racism
                                                                   Garda Síochána and Immigration Authorities and ensure
Growing hostility towards migrants is a worrying develop-
                                                                   that the Garda Complaints Ombudsman and Garda
ment in the current recession. The role of the tabloid media
                                                                   Inspectorate have a clear remit in investigating and
and some right wing anti-Lisbon Treaty groupings
                                                                   reporting on incidents of racism perpetrated by Gardaí.
circulating anti-migrant and racist propaganda was
particularly evident in the lead up to the Irish vote on
                                                                 • Improve access to redress for victims of racism. In
the EU Treaty. The decision of the government to make
                                                                   particular, reduce waiting times in the Equality Tribunal
restrictive changes to the work permit system in June
                                                                   (currently at two years) to a maximum of six months, and
2009 also had the potential to exacerbate racism towards
migrants. These changes were intended to make it                   provide financial support to organisations advocating for
extremely difficult for migrant workers who had been               the rights of those experiencing racism.
made redundant to remain and work in Ireland. This
change would have forced legally resident members of             • Ensure that all front line State service providers
society, many of whom have made Ireland their home,                participate in anti-racism and gender equality training,
into desperate situations of being undocumented and                and incorporate a focus on anti racism and equality into
unable to access any social protection. This created a high        codes of practice, service statements and performance
degree of tension and fear within the migrant community.           monitoring systems.
In addition, it created the impression that migrant workers
were no longer welcome, and reinforced the views of              • Improve the collection of primary data relating to migrant
some who have been actively promoting an anti-migrant              workers at national level and across the full range of
agenda. Similarly, the public discourse on migrant workers         public services. Data collection should be gender
‘frauding’ the social welfare system has significant potential     disaggregated, and be publicly accessible.
to exacerbate racism.

‘Pay foreigners to leave’, says Noel O’Flynn, a
Fianna Fail TD, backing the proposal of Fine Gael’s              The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland is a national
Leo Varadkar to‘bribe’ unemployed immigrants to                  organisation working to promote justice, empowerment
leave the country.                                               and equality for migrant workers and their families.
                                                                 55 Parnell Square West, Dublin 1
                                                                 T: (01) 889 7570  E: info@mrci.ie
COUNTERING RACISM: RECOMMENDATIONS                               F: (01) 889 7579  W: www.mrci.ie
There are a number of recommendations that would
contribute to the creation of a more equal society.
Countering racism for migrant and other ethnic minority          This project is co-financed by the European Commission
communities requires a more comprehensive and strategic          and supported by the Office of the Minister for Integration and Pobal.
approach. MRCI advocates for the development of a new
plan of action to follow on from the ending of the National
Action Plan Against Racism. The specific recommendations
are to:

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